So what can the fate of a coffee shop tell you about the state of the US economy and the evolution of work? A lot, in the end.
The other week, the bistro where my family and I have had brunch every Sunday since the pandemic began announced it would close its doors on weekends and move to a more limited schedule on weekdays. The reason was familiar: The owner couldn’t find the staff he needed to operate efficiently and to keep himself and his current staff from being reduced to dust due to the strenuous pace.
The news was heartbreaking, if not at all surprising. Employers across the country are grappling with a labor shortage so deep that an Alabama pizza restaurant has pledged to hire “literally anyone” just to keep the doors open, according to Business. Insider.
Business leaders have falsely blamed the crisis on generous pandemic unemployment benefits, arguing that they discourage re-entry into the labor market. Study after study has proven that this is not the case. Instead, more seismic forces are at work.
In April of this year, a staggering 4 million people quit their jobs, in a phenomenon that has been called “The Great Resignation,” Vox reported.
It’s not that people don’t want to work, but rather that after 16 life-changing months that have seen hundreds of thousands of our family, friends and neighbors die at the hands of a relentless and blind enemy. , there is just a real question of whether working 40 hours a week at a job with below-standard pay, low benefits, and poor work-home balance is really worth it.
More and more, the answer is a categorical “no”.
Hospitality and leisure workers, who work in restaurants, bars and hotels, and who have had to bear the brunt of the pandemic-induced rage for low wages and little dignity, are leading the way of this exodus. In April, the sector lost more than 740,000 people.
In the midst of the pandemic, workers in all sectors discovered something: When they weren’t tied to desks or jobs, there was time for something miraculous: family and community, the hobby they had put off learning, the time to retrain and look for a new and more fulfilling job.
True, not everyone had this luxury, working parents had to scramble to find daycare or balance the demands of remote work with being their children’s head teacher.
The change has been particularly difficult for the working poor. Frontline workers did not have the luxury to step back at all.
Even so, “We have changed. The job has changed. The way we think about time and space has changed, ”Tsedal Neeley, professor at Harvard Business School, told NPR. Having been given time, space and flexibility thanks to the pandemic, workers now want and demand it, she told NPR.
And then something else happened, due to unprecedented direct payments from the federal government – up to $ 3,200 each – the number of Americans living in poverty began to decline, according to Vox, from 12.8% in 2018 to 8.5%. It’s based on projections made by researchers at Columbia University in March.
Separate research from the Urban Institute, also cited by Vox, predicted that poverty in 2021 would be around 7%, almost halving the rate in 2018.
The Biden White House Child Tax Credit program, monthly payments of up to $ 300 per child to American families, is also expected to lift millions of children out of poverty. Republicans oppose such largesse, claiming it perpetuates the welfare state.
It’s hard to deny the reality: when you give people money, they are less poor, happier, and more likely to put that money back into the economy. In fact, economists expect economic growth of around 7% this year and 4.9% in 2022, fueled by the stimulus and vaccines, Reuters reported.
The right political choices reduce poverty. And American workers, now accustomed to the flexibility of the post-pandemic economy and the steady flow of stimulus checks, are unlikely to want to turn back the clock.
But it can’t stop there. To help both employers and workers, Washington must step in and do several things.
One of them is finally making the richest Americans pay their fair share, who got even richer during the pandemic.
Earlier this week, new research by a coalition of Pennsylvania advocates showed that if a wealth tax proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren had been in effect in 2020, “the country’s billionaires alone would have paid $ 114. billion dollars for this year – and would pay an estimated combined total of $ 1.4 trillion over 10 years.
That would pay off about half of the $ 3.5 trillion budget resolution backed by the Biden administration that would dramatically reshape the post-pandemic economy. Approving it would fund child care and a host of other programs that would get Americans back to work in a sustainable and healthy way.
We also need to stop linking health coverage and other benefits to employment. The United States is almost alone in linking health coverage and other key benefits to work.
The pandemic has proven that everything we know about work is wrong. And there is no hindsight now.
Award-winning political journalist John L. Micek is editor-in-chief of Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.